Harvesting good work: Reap what you sow

I’m not a farmer, not even a green thumb really. While I quite enjoy gardening and have a composter, I’ve learned to populate my garden with plants that survive on a healthy dose of neglect. (Side note on the composter: there is something joyful about shredding old copies of my PhD thesis drafts and feeding them to the worms.) Despite my lack of horticultural know-how, I’ve recently been considering the farming—and biblical—metaphor that you reap what you sow.

I often see others I admire reaping the rewards of their work. These people aren’t slaves to the performative measures of a neoliberal system, or narcissists seeking the spotlight of social media celebrity. They are humans–professionals, thinkers, theorists and practitioners–dedicated to work they believe is important. To doing it, sharing it, making a difference.

Since the final throes of my PhD in March, things have been happening in seemingly organic ways. Of course the PhD got done-and-fairy-dusted, and the thesis published online. The first paper from my PhD has since been published: ‘Coaching for professional growth in one Australian school: “oil in water”’, in the International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education. I have another paper in press, due out next month. Two more are sitting on editors’ or reviewers’ desks. Two drafts are on the desk of a co-author. I have been interviewed on the Teachers’ Education Review podcast and on 2SER Sydney community radio. I had a piece published in The Conversation this week, about the dangers of pursuing performance pay for teachers. I am in discussions about bookish things, too.

And I’ve been on some kind of accidental-on-purpose conference circuit. AERA in DC in April. researchED in Melbourne in May. The International Symposium for Coaching and Positive Psychology in Education in Sydney in June (this Thursday and Friday). Heroism Science in Perth in July. For (little old) me, alongside my work at my school, all this seems like armfuls of hand-picked produce.

I’m not sure why I’m surprised at the pace of my recent schedule of outside-of-work commitments (also known as the unpaid-but-rewarding work that is academic writing and presenting), and the fact that I’ve started to be approached, rather than doing the approaching myself. But I am quietly bemused that I seem to be in a harvesting part of a cycle, even though I know that this is actually the result of hard and persistent work. The seeds for the current abundance were selected, sown and tended a while ago. Papers were written and reviewed (and reviewed and reviewed). Abstracts were drafted and submitted. Relationships were formed and cultivated. Presentations were prepared. Work was done. A lot of it. In my evenings and on my weekends and in my down time, and in all the little nooks and crannies of my life where I could fit reading, writing, collaborating, learning and connecting. Thank goodness for the wonderful people who support me, from my family and friends, to my colleagues and professional learning network, the Twitterati and my Voxer Squad.

I believe in doing good work. For me this is enacted in ways that are without a linear frame. I’m never quite sure where I’ll end up, or even where exactly I’m intending to go. It’s about doing work that I’m passionate about and feel is important, whether in service of my students, my coachees, my school, or knowledge in the world. In my writing, too, I often try things out, head down trails unsure of where they lead, double back, try again.

So, for now I continue to sow seeds I think are worth sowing. Write and research those things I think are worth writing and researching. Say things I think are worth saying. Teach what I think is worth teaching, in ways I think are most worth doing. Seek to learn those things I think are most worth learning.

The fun thing about this kind of sowing is that it’s like planting mystery seeds. I never quite know what influences or impacts something I do now might have in the future. It’s why the reaping feels like Christmas morning.

The best bit is how rewarding all the persistent and consistent hard work is. I like the work itself. I love the struggle and the triumph. I love the connections and the relationships that bubble up and take form. I love the unexpected rhizomatic results. A failed planting. A teeny green seedling reaching up from damp dark earth. A basketful of glossy fruit. A knotted beanstalk reaching up to the clouds.

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9 thoughts on “Harvesting good work: Reap what you sow

  1. I believe in it too, and it’s what I do. But for me it’s getting harder. My PhD in 2006 was the culmination of seven years of mystery sowing, then I had four years of harvesting before a change of government here led to, or coincided with (depending which side you’re on), a big recession (nobody argues about that part). I’ve been mystery sowing again for the last five years, and was feeling that I could be on the cusp of another harvesting period, but now we’ve had Brexit that is looking less and less likely. I am so disheartened right now 😥 I don’t want to deter anyone from mystery sowing, but I would say look up from the ground now and again in case a big obstacle is up ahead, because it may be easier to find a way round if you can spot it in advance.

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    • An important caution, Helen.

      I’m trying to figure out how much (mostly unpaid) sowing I can afford to do in terms of balancing interesting work, making a living and looking after my relationships and wellbeing.

      I wonder to what extent local and world events, or uncertainty (which we also have in Australia right now), influence our capacities to take baby steps or leaps of faith.

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